The Vulnerability Hangover

vulnerability hangover

I think I’m gonna hurl, I cautioned myself as her lips moved happily without sound. A year elapsed in the span of a two-minute interaction. My insides hosted a raucous rebellion. My nervous system quaked like hummingbird wings, and my guts were angry. I stood there with a fiery spear connecting the dots from one temple to the other, and my legs threatened to bolt if I didn’t cooperate.

“….brave……enjoyed reading……wanted to thank you….” Some of her words sliced through my consciousness.

We have a bad connection. I can’t hear you and I’m about to puke on your shoe. Please shut up, so I can run home, curl up in a ball, and cry for a millennium. Thanks for understanding; you’re a doll, my brain confessed. Thankfully….my mouth was parched by paralysis.

It was finally over. I stifled a violent retch as I walked across the preschool parking lot to my truck.


It was my first brush with the vulnerability hangover. It was nine years ago, and my first article had just been published in She Magazine.

In the snugness of my recliner, I had pecked out gratitude for my mama, highlighted against the backdrop of errant daughter antics. I had been comfortable alluding to late night drunken disasters during the college years from the isolation of my guest room. Having preschool-mom-I-know-not approach me during drop off and realizing I had shared my years as a lush and other personal details with all of this region of South Carolina was an enterprise of another variety.

What have I done? 

It’s the vulnerability hangover’s theme song.

My tolerance for public vulnerability has grown significantly over the past decade, particularly as I’ve seen the willingness to be openly human unlock the shackles for others – even if just for a brief respite to massage the wrists and ankles.

These days I consider myself a bit of a student of the vulnerability hangover. When someone opens the trench coat and emotionally flashes the world, I secretly forecast the imminent onset of the VH.

The afflicted replay their words like an Instagram video on an unceasing loop. And then they assume the universal posture of mortification:

vulnerability hangover

Nothing invokes the VH symptoms like social media gaffes.

Can we all just agree that Facebook isn’t the best venue for soul-baring? Especially of the hurt or angry sort.

We need real live breathing people we share those feelings with – preferably those we are angry with or hurt by. I know it’s archaic but – for crying out loud – pick up the phone and dial ’em up.

Swiftly hide/unfriend/block if need be and move on, dear one.

Social media requires a health that eludes many of us. Since we are shooting straight here, there have been times when I was not healthy enough to 1) have Swiss Cake Rolls in my house or 2) log-in to Twitter. We’ve gotta know when it’s time to walk away for a spell, friends. Maybe BuzzFeed can crank out a quiz entitled “How Likely Are You to Post Something Emotionally Asinine?”

Lately my Facebook feed has felt more like a middle school hallway than a social network for adults, and that feels bizarro at 42 years-old.

I’m not complaining because I can easily sign out and live unaware. Rant on, angry post-er, if you will. Not my circus. Not my monkeys. But the people-lover in me (introvert though I am) wants all of us to have safe people we can vent to. Listening ears that can absorb our anger and kind voices that speak a balm over our raw emotion.

Conflict resolution is not a lost art. It’s an actual thing. But social media is not its address. I have never – not one single solitary time – seen a conflict dismantled on any social media platform.

That’s not its jam.

Forget BuzzFeed.

How Likely Are You to Post Something Emotionally Asinine?

  • Are your nostrils flared due to a wild-eyed fury? Slowly back away from the keyboard.
  • Are your tears and snot commingling as you croon out old school Percy Sledge? Just don’t.
  • Is there a trace of alcohol in your bloodstream? Abstain, man, abstain.
  • Are you writing a post with a specific, unnamed individual as its audience? Nope. Your veiled allusion fools no one.
  • Are you trying to portray that you don’t give a rat’s butt about something that is eating you alive? Yo, we’re not buying it.

I’m a proponent of realness because it kicks artifice in the teeth. I’m a fan of authenticity because it unlocks prisons of shame and arbitrary expectations. I fly that flag and beat that drum all day long, but everything has a proper context.

Vulnerability works its magic when it debuts in safety.

And it captivates a room when it collects itself and then emerges publicly to help and encourage.

The vulnerability hangover may still beset the sharer, but when the motive is freedom and a desire to assist others, soul-satisfaction is its remedy. And with each episode of transparency, our guts develop greater immunity to the VH. I don’t think we’re ever impervious to its effects, but we become prone to a much milder case.

Keep it real, fam. Buck the notion to paint your life perfect and temper your rush to spew anger and hurt. Walk the balance between authenticity and instability. Cultivate genuine, safe community, and fight against the VH’s ambition of keeping you fake.

And beware of those who thrive on oversharing; they’ve been vaccinated against the vulnerability hangover. Lord, help us all…

[Images: Bryan Rosengrant and Alex Proimos]
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2 Comments

  1. Becky
    BeckyReply
    October 7, 2015 at 11:03 am

    Love, love, love this! I try so hard to keep it real and be transparent. It really makes me much more approachable to others. Thanks for sharing! Love you!

    • Cookie Cawthon
      October 7, 2015 at 11:09 am

      You do this so well, beautiful friend. Masterfully! Love you and am so challenged by your tenacious self!!

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